Tag Archives: Facebook

Why I Do Not Like the Acquisition of FriendFeed by Facebook

FaceFeedNote: The following post is not written in my usual role as an information management software industry analyst. Rather, it is made as just another user of social networking technology and a member of the FriendFeed community.

On December 26 1919, the Boston Red Sox did the unthinkable — they sold Babe Ruth to their arch-rivals, the New York Yankees. The reaction to that transaction was profound and long-lasting (especially if you believed in The Curse.) In an instant, the game of baseball was changed forever.

A similar event occurred yesterday, when Facebook announced that it had acquired FriendFeed. To say that the two were arch-rivals is highly inaccurate. Facebook has over 250 million registered users while the FriendFeed community numbered just under 1 million. However, the immediate reaction by the majority of FriendFeed members appeared to be as passionate and anguished as those of Red Sox fans in 1919.

I learned of the acquisition just a few minutes after it had been announced, and my initial reaction was decidedly negative.

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I was not alone. An informal poll conducted by a FriendFeed member indicates that 76% of respondents did not like the Facebook + FriendFeed combination.

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Most of the comments I saw on FriendFeed communicated a sense of not just shock and disappointment, but of betrayal. How could the FriendFeed team sell out the community to Facebook?! Many FriendFeed members said that they had avoided Facebook intentionally and did not have an account on the service (myself included). Others indicated that they had Facebook accounts, but had let them fall inactive.

So why the strong negative reaction to the acquisition? I cannot speak for other FriendFeed members, but I can and will share my perspective:

  • FriendFeed has an open philosophy and design; Facebook locks everything down (requires membership and has granular privacy settings)
  • FriendFeed is an aggregator of content from other sites; Facebook is a walled garden
  • FriendFeed = early adopter technology community; Facebook = friends, family, and institutional colleagues
  • FriendFeed is about conversations; Facebook is about applications
  • FriendFeed has no ads and very little spam; Facebook is filled with spam and advertising
  • FriendFeed rapidly innovates new, requested functionality; Facebook has copied many of FriendFeed’s innovations

I can sum up my objections in a single sentence:

The eventual shutdown of FriendFeed will force me to move to a platform that has unwanted noise and features, is populated mostly by people that I don’t care to interact with online, and has an operating philosophy with which I don’t agree, assuming I want to join Facebook just to continue using the great functionality that was provided by FriendFeed.

I established a Facebook account shortly after hearing about their acquisition of FriendFeed, but I honestly don’t expect to use it. I simply thought I should grab the real estate while I still could. I think I will spend more time on Twitter and wait to see to which service the early adopter technology community eventually migrates.

Am I (and the vast majority of FriendFeed members) over-reacting? Or am I right to not plan to embrace Facebook just to continue using the great functionality that FriendFeed pioneered? Please let me know what you think and why.

Update: I found the video below just after I originally posted this entry. The video is a great parody of the reaction that many of us had to the news that FriendFeed had been bought by Facebook. I hope no one is offended by the main character.

The Migration of (Social) Species

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There has been much interest in, and discussion of, a report written by a 15 year old Morgan Stanley intern regarding the perceived lack of Twitter usage by teens. I saw a link on Twitter to an article about this topic first thing Monday morning, and it grabbed my attention for three reasons:

  1. I have a 15 year old son who doesn’t twitter (nor do his friends)
  2. the topic came up and was discussed in an unconference session at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference last month
  3. I had a discussion on this topic even more recently with some peers from the knowledge management community

After casually researching and thinking more about the topic, it is clear that there is evidence supporting the notion that teens have not embraced Twitter. To wit:

However, there is other evidence that suggests that teens are beginning to use Twitter, but, perhaps, more slowly and differently than older users. Here are a couple of examples:

Either way, too many pundits are making sweeping generalizations about age and technology usage. I am not a firm believer in generational technology usage patterns, such as Gen Y is more likely to use social software than Baby Boomers, because I do not fit neatly into the pattern associated with my generation by advocates of those demographic patterns. I am a Boomer, but my online behavior is much more in sync with the Gen Y profile, if you buy into the common wisdom regarding generational differences.

So rather than continuing to look for root causes of generational differences in Twitter uptake, I decided to seek a common theme that cuts across the age demographic.  Here is what I found:

People register for, and use, the social networking service on which the most members of the their community/tribe/clique are located. They will continue to use that service, and disregard others, until the privacy of their group is compromised or the tribal signal begins to be drowned out by irrelevant noise. When either of those disruptions occurs, leaders of the group will migrate to a smaller (and usually newer) social networking service and the other members will eventually follow, abandoning the previously used service.

Evidence suggests that teens have lost the privacy that they enjoyed for so long on Facebook, now that their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, parents of close friends, teachers, coaches, and so on have begun to dominate the service:

  • “Then Facebook became necessary for university life and keeping in touch with high school friends, which eventually progressed to my siblings, some aunts, cousins, girls from my soccer team, and random people I met at a party.” (Source: http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2009/06/11/twitter_is_for.html)
  • “Just when all the grown ups started figuring out Facebook, college and high school users have declined in absolute number by 20% and 15% respectively in a mere six months, according to estimates Facebook provides to advertisers that were archived for tracking by an outside firm. Facebook users aged 55 and over have skyrocketed from under 1 million to nearly six million in the same time period. There are more Facebook users over 55 years old today than there are high school students using the site.” (Source: http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/facebooks_own_estimates_show_youth_flight_from_sit.php)

Other evidence indicates that the signal to noise ratio has deteriorated to the point where teens can no longer use Facebook for focused communication:

However, the migratory behavior displayed by teens leaving Facebook and moving to Twitter is not exclusive to their age group:

Others see a parallel between this migratory behavior and the way terrorists and other activist groups use collaboration and communication tools:

  • “Twitter has also become a social activism tool for socialists, human rights groups, communists, vegetarians, anarchists, religious communities, atheists, political enthusiasts, hacktivists and others to communicate with each other and to send messages to broader audiences.” (Source: Page 8 of http://www.fas.org/irp/eprint/mobile.pdf)
  • “Oddly enough, this is quite similar to the way many (self-described) jihadists use Twitter. They make protected accounts & sub-accounts in mini-circles. Many don’t trust Twitter that much, and still use IM heavily, changing accounts frequently.” (Source: http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2009/06/11/twitter_is_for.html).

In nature, herds of animals, flocks of birds, and schools of fish migrate from one habitat to another when certain specific conditions signal that it is time to move on. People appear to be no different, at least when it comes to social networking services. Age has little, if anything at all, to do with migratory behavior, whether the moving species is human, animal, bird, or fish.

Photo Credit: Angelo Juan Ramos (http://www.flickr.com/photos/wandering_angel/)

Echoing the Business Case for Enterprise Social Software

Socialtext’s Ross Mayfield blogged today about the ROI of Social Networking for TransUnion.  In spite of the title, the real news in the post is not the amount of ROI, which, in the case of TransUnion’s Socialtext deployment, has only been estimated, not proven.  Rather, the most powerful messages are echoes of two ideas that were expressed in my last post on this blog.

First, organizations are wary of employees using public social software to discuss business.  Companies are deploying enterprise social software to keep confidential information behind the firewall.  In Mayfield’s post, TransUnion CTO John Parkinson said he saw the need “to defend against too much of this [employee social networking] going on in public.”  Mayfield further underscores Parkinson’s mindset by writing,

“Since the company deals in credit reports, it wasn’t keen on employees gathering to talk shop on the public Web. So the IT team set up Socialtext inside the company firewall.”

Clearly, corporations view the use of public social software as a risk to the confidentiality of their business information.  I think we will see many more examples of this risk avoidance behavior in the future, and it may end up being the most compelling business case for deploying enterprise social software in the near term.

The second bit in Mayfield’s blog that echoes my previous post is the other reason TransUnion bought and deployed Socialtext software.  According to Mayfield, TransUnion’s ROI estimate is based on cost savings of avoided additional software purchases.  Fine, but what were those purchases (and the Socialtext investment as well) intended to do?  Provide new tools to help employees work around existing ones that didn’t allow them to perform productively!

“TransUnion knew it was time to provide an internal social networking tool when people started asking for permission to set up an employee group inside Facebook.”

Why did these employees want a Facebook group?  I do not know for sure, but I am confident that it was because Facebook would allow them to achieve a business objective that they could not meet using existing TransUnion applications and systems.  Bravo to Socialtext for providing a solution that will likely meet those employees’ needs in a more secure fashion.

This TransUnion example affirms what I stated in my previous post.  The real value employees gain by using enterprise social software is shown in their ability to get work done when other corporate systems fail them.

Social Software: The Unemployed Knowledge Worker’s Best Friend

layoff-headlineReading headline after headline announcing new job cuts has sparked some thought regarding what’s different between this nascent recession and the last economic slowdown of the early 1990s.  Several things, to be sure, but the most important one may be the ability of the unemployed knowledge worker to connect with others to mine employment and new business opportunities.

I predict that we will remember the the 2008-2009 recession as the time when the public availability of free social software proved to be the unemployed knowledge worker’s best friend and savior.  And, perhaps, the global economy’s as well.

When I was laid off in 2003, after the Internet bubble burst, I had several tools with which to stay connected with my professional and social networks.  Telephone and e-mail were the primary communication vehicles, of course.  Instant messaging wasn’t as pervasive then as it is today, but I used it to stay in touch with a few people in my network.  The best method to network was — and still is — by meeting with someone face-to-face.  In fact, it was an in-person conversation that triggered the chain of events that lead to my employment at IBM in 2004.

Knowledge workers in this economic downturn have all of those tools available, plus several more.  Online profiles (LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace), blogs, microstreaming (Twitter, FriendFeed), content sharing (GoogleDocs, Box.net), bookmarking (Del.icio.us, Digg), and other species of social software have greatly increased our ability to stay connected and work with others in our professional and social networks.

As I’ve noted previously on this blog, we rely less and less on employers to provide the communication and collaboration tools needed to connect and work with others.  That’s great news for those who have, or are about to, become unemployed!  Knowledge workers in 2008 have so many more ways to mine their contacts to find regular or contract employment compared to those who lost jobs five years ago.  The ability of unemployed knowledge workers to explore business ideas and start new ventures has also been increased by the public availability of free social software.

I am optimistic that the current recession, as painful as it will be, will breed the kinds of opportunities that will leave all of us better off in the long run.  There is one caveat to my optimistic outlook though.  If you haven’t been maintaining and building your professional and social networks all along, your ability to leverage them to find employment or start a business will be very limited.  It’s not too late to start building networks now via social software, but don’t expect to harvest immediately from a plot that you’ve just sown.

Blogs Are Dead, Long Live Blogs!

There is an interesting, but perhaps excessive, post by Paul Boutin on Wired.com this morning.  Mr. Boutin says that we “amateur” bloggers should give up because our voices are drowned out by profession and commercial blogs.  He suggests that we should use Twitter, Flickr, and Facebook as our self-expression outlets instead of blogs.

My, we have short memories.  Mr. Boutin’s statements remind me of .com retailers during the Internet bubble days.  They claimed that the Net was a new channel that superseded brick and mortar stores as the place to sell to customers.  As we later learned, the Internet is a complementary channel, and the best business model is one that embraces multiple distribution channels.

Most successful non-professional bloggers I know express themselves through several channels and actually engage in cross-channel promotion.  For example, Twitter is used both to broadcast short opinions and to announce (and link to) new posts on a blog site.  This is a far better approach than deserting a well-established channel in favor of a new one.

Success in collaboration, as in retail, is increased when we use multiple channels, or determine the best channel for the situation from a number of options.  Declaring one collaboration channel as passe in favor of newer one is self-defeating.